Chapter 12

“Michelle, get dressed and come downstairs. Rudolph returned to the city last night,” a muffled voice called out. “If you get dressed fast enough, you might be able to eat breakfast with him.”

Michelle sat up in bed and rubbed the crust out of her eyes. She washed her face with the bucket of water in the corner of her room and changed into a white robe. She clipped on her silver cross necklace and skipped down the stairs. “You forgot to comb your hair,” her mother said. “Are you that excited to see him?”

Michelle giggled and ran her fingers through her hair, smoothing out the tangles. Her mother looked at her and smiled, ever since Rudolph had his coming of age ceremony Michelle always wanted to see him. At least, if they got married, the church and state would be united. With that, the two headed outside towards the royal castle.

They soon arrived and saw Rudolph riding Johann towards his parents. “You were gone for three weeks; I missed you so much,” Michelle said. She ran from her mother’s side and hugged Johann on the snout. Michelle giggled as Johann snorted and licked her face.

“I don’t get a hug?” Rudolph asked as he dismounted Johann. He opened his arms and waited.

“Of course not, you stink,” Michelle said and pinched her nose.

Rudolph frowned and dropped his arms. “It’s not my fault. I just emptied Johann’s poop bag; Alistar wouldn’t let me for the whole journey,” he said. Michelle stuck her tongue out at him.

“C’mon, Johann. Let’s go to the gardens,” Michelle said and tugged on Johann’s reins.

“Wait for me,” Rudolph said as he chased after them. The queen smiled and this. “It’s good to see you again, Marissa. Come inside, we’re about to have breakfast,” she said to Michelle’s mother.

Marissa curtsied. “Don’t mind if I do,” she said.

***

“This is strange,” Claire said and raised her staff to her chest. “It’s too quiet.”

“Are there any traps, Zul?” Aran asked. The man wearing a blue robe shook his head. “It’s all clear. I detect traces of magic, but it’s faint,” he replied.

“I don’t like it,” Sophie said. “Should we turn back?”

“We already came all this way and now you want to turn back? Where’s that fearless ogre spirit?” Zeke asked with a smile.

The man with the black vest shook his head. “Stay vigilant,” he said. “Too many adventures have died here.”

Zeke snorted. “Isn’t that why you’re here, Ross? To rez us when we die?” Zeke asked.

“Dying’s painful; let’s not do that please,” Sophie said.

Zul raised his hand and the group stopped. “The concentration of magic is a lot higher here; it’s most likely the mini boss or boss room,” he said.

“Already? We haven’t even done anything yet though,” Claire said.

“Group buffs,” Aran said, “and don’t forget antipetrify. Rumors have it that a basilisk is the mini boss.” A white light encircled the group and faded as Claire raised her staff to cast shield: physical, shield: magical, and antipetrify. Aran pushed open the door with his foot while wielding his red greatsword. The group inched in with their weapons raised and checked their surroundings. “It’s empty?” Zeke asked, but didn’t lower his daggers.

“It looks like it; look, the stairs going down already appeared,” Claire said.

“Uh, guys… Look up,” Sophie said as she stared at the ceiling.

“Are those human shaped… holes?” Zul asked with wide eyes. The group stared at the ceiling without moving.

“… Should we keep going?” Ross asked, breaking the silence.

Aran nodded. “It seems like something happened; if we’re lucky, we’ll be able to get to the fountain without a hassle,” he said. The group proceeded down the stairs and continued to travel with their weapons still raised.

“I think we reached the boss room,” Zul said. There was a giant crater in the middle of the room with a few inches of liquid at the bottom.

“This is the fountain of youth?” Aran asked. “Why’s it so empty? Did it relocate?”

Claire raised her staff and pointed it at the puddle. “Scan,” she said. “It’s definitely the fountain. That water is the water of life. Restores age, boosts health recovery, and increases magic resistance when drunk.”

“I think that’d be of most use to me,” Zeke said with a grin, “cause I’m always drunk.”

Claire smacked his head. “Not that kind of drunk. Drank,” she said. “There’s enough for 7 cups, just enough for all of us and the quest. It refills one cup every day, so it drained a week ago.”

Aran nodded. “Let’s clear it and leave,” he said. “I don’t want to stay here any longer than we have to.”

“Guys, there’s still a door over there in the corner,” Zeke said.

“Ignore it,” Aran said. “We got what we came for.”

Zeke frowned, but he turned around and followed the group as they headed back out.

***

“Are we there yet?” Vur asked. He was holding Snuffles and sitting in front of Lindyss as they rode the basilisk. A cloud of bats followed behind.

“Almost,” Lindyss said as she braided Vur’s hair.

“You said that yesterday,” Vur said while pouting.

“And I’ll say it again tomorrow when you ask,” Lindyss replied with a smile. The past week had been spent traveling towards the desert in the south west while visiting monster habitats on the way. Lindyss insisted on having Vur fight all kinds of beasts to learn their skills. She even fed him to a miro—a treelike beast with fangs.

“Is it fine to leave the fountain for so long, Master?”

“What if adventurers invade?”

“Shouldn’t you have left some of us behind?”

“Hush, Master is all knowing and wise.”

“Master’s the best.”

“She didn’t help me when I was drowning though.”

“Second best?”

“It’s fine,” Lindyss said. “This brat drank it all. You guys couldn’t stop adventurers if they came anyway. What’s it matter if a few drops are taken?”

“Master cares for us.”

“As I thought, she’s the best.”

“But…”

“Quiet, it’s your fault for not knowing how to swim.”

***

“How many towns do you think they’ll burn this time?” Prika asked.

Leila sighed. “At least eighty. You know how Grimmy gets when he’s mad.”

Prika nodded. The dragons had spent five days searching for Vur or a sign of his aura, but none of them were able to find anything. Prika and Leila were guarding the hoard, while Sera, Grimmy, and Vernon were taking out their anger on nearby human and demon villages. Sera uprooted the remains of the sacred tree and them on fire when she heard Vur went missing, but she didn’t hurt any of the elves because of her promise to her father.

“I hope he’s alright,” Prika said and rested her head on her paws.

 

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